Thanks for making time to talk about Woodford Grace. It’s a spectacular design and very unique, the obvious question is “why did you do it?”
Simply, our kids are growing up and we needed a larger house. We were living in 3-bedroom semi-detached house in the central city, which was great pre-children, and for the last 13 years it was fantastic. But life with kids meant our home filled up pretty quickly and at the end two of the kids were sharing a room with bunks and they needed their own space. The other kid’s bedroom was so tiny you couldn’t open the door fully without hitting the bed. All the kids have grown up in bunks at one time or another and as parents we could see that wasn’t the best long-term solution.
We needed a new house, but after looking at too many houses for sale on-line and attending too many open homes to list, nothing really took our fancy. And to be fair, we were being quite particular: we wanted a house close to the city with garden space and it had to have a pool (or at least have the potential to have a pool). We could have found a house fairly easy if we hadn’t has the requirement to be close to the city, but if you’ve ever lived in or close to the city centre it’s just the place to be with everything so close. We walk or cycle everywhere. That said we totally appreciate it was a long wish list and that made our search harder. Even so, after maybe a year or so looking this property came onto the market, and it ticked all our boxes.
But why did you do ‘this’, why take an old house and build a new house attached to it – why didn’t you just start again?
Starting again would have been a whole heap simpler. The problem is we’ve always had a love affair with old homes and the wood panelling in the Entrance is just stunning – we love the feeling of walking into a house for the very first time and being surrounded by a feeling of history. Old homes tell a story and we wanted to respect that, as we often say “you can’t build old”. At the same time though old homes are generally cold and damp, and we’d had that experience for too long so we were absolutely committed to a pretty major renovation.
As part of our renovation journey we developed an architectural brief that set out what we wanted the house to achieve. The brief included retaining the original house but was very focused on modernising the house and including warmth and comfort as a key driver. The brief was a key part of our relationship with our architect and continued to be updated as we progressed through the design phases of the project, the development of the brief is a conversation in itself.
You might be interested to know we went to three architects before selecting our chosen designers. We effectively undertook a paid design competition where we paired three building architects with three landscape architects and created three teams of two. We provided each team with the same resource materials and our brief and it was up to them to deliver a concept.
I’m intrigued, how did that work out?
Wth variable quality. Although we’d made it quite clear we wanted the landscape and building to work together in unison – and that was why we coupled the landscape and building design together so they worked in harmony – one team amazed us by have opposing designs. The winning team of Cymon Allfrey and Tony Milne was spectacular. You got a sense they really were working as a team and the concept design in our opinion was remarkable. The Pavilion design was inspired but more than that, it was fully integrated and matched into the landscape both functionally as well as aesthetically. We can’t speak highly enough of these guys, they’re great.
So, were you expecting what was finally presented?
Absolutely not. I remember at the final presentation it was all plain sailing until ‘wow’ this Pavilion showed up and the divide between the old and new house became apparent. It was an amazingly uplifting moment – they knocked the brief out of the park!
And what about Passive, where did that come from?
Not from us, we didn’t even know what Passive was until it was proposed by our architect and I don’t think he would have suggested it had we not said that we expected to be residents in the house for many years to come. Interestingly, we’ve since learnt that Passive is a philosophical approach and should be the starting point for design. We on the other hand started with a great architectural design, and Passive almost came as an afterthought.
Consequently constructing our Passive house has been difficult because our design is a geometrically complex shape and was consistently fighting with the Passive concept. Simplistically Passive ideally seeks a rectangular shape, long side facing north (south in the northern hemisphere) and depending on scale, two levels with large overhanging eves. Our concept design on the other hand breaks many of these good Passive design rules and when coupled with retrofitting an existing house means it was a very difficult build. To reiterate, did we happen to mention it was a very difficult process, very difficult.
I think I get it, I’m hearing ‘very difficult’, but now that you’ve been living in the house for a while, was Passive worth it?
Absolutely. A Passive house is amazingly warm in winter and cool in summer. It sounds corny, but once you’ve gone Passive, you’ll never go back. What it has really taught us is just how poor the NZ building code is for thermal performance, and as a consequence the general poor performance of new builds in New Zealand from a comfort perspective; but that is a different story.
What about the sustainability side of things?
You can think of Passive as a fantastic building block to embrace environmental sustainability because it reduces energy use. We’ve embraced that approach coupling an energy efficient home with energy generation via the photovoltaic panels and also introduced other energy saving measures such as a combined hot water system. That system means that while we’re heating hot water, we can also use that hot water for ambient heating via our central heating system.
But why do you need a central heating system if you have a Passive house?
Well a Passive house means being energy efficient, but it doesn’t mean 'no energy'.
For example, in the depths of winter we need to introduce heat because the outside ambient temperature is so low the heat transfer from inside the house to outside the house is more significant. We add heat in a number of ways such as indirectly via the cooking ovens, underfloor tiles and heated towel rails, and most of the year those sources are enough to keep the house cosy.
In winter though we need a little more and we can do that via the in-line electric heater that is located in the mechanical ventilation system or via the air-to-water heat pump that also heats our hot water. Water is a better thermal conductor for transmitting heat and hence it’s more efficient to use the air-to-water heat pump coupled with the hot water radiators we have located around the house. To be fair, we don’t need them very often, but they do make the place toasty on the coldest days.
Ok then, let’s talk money, do the sustainability initiatives you’ve introduced stack up ﬁnancially?
This is easy to answer, no.
That's a disappointment to say but right at the moment it’s generally cheaper to heat rather than invest capital in energy conservation, or maybe we should say at least to the extent we went to. I mean there is an optimum point where the financial return doesn’t justify further investment and I think from memory that’s about Home Star 6.5 whereas we’re Home Star 8. That said, we didn’t do it for only a financial return on investment, rather we did it because it’s the right thing to do. We wanted to demonstrate to our kids, and others, it's possible to choose to build grand but more importantly, build sustainably. And if someone wants to see what we’ve done and just pick out one element then good on them, we’ve had a positive influence and they can run with it.
I really like that approach, so what you’re saying is don’t measure the house as a whole, rather as a sum of its parts?
Absolutely, someone might like the automation, the sustainability, or just the heritage aspects, or something else. They can take any one bit and if what we’ve done just demonstrates “it’s possible” then over to them. I don’t think it’s necessary to replicate what we’ve done, just take the bits you like and go from there.
Is there any one part of the house or landscape you particularly like?
Wow that a tricky one, we like all parts of the house but for different reasons. The leather lounge is a real sensory indulgence whereas the kitchen, Pavilion and Swimming Pool work so well together and make for a great entertaining area. We love it all.
And what about changes, is there anything you would change?
Not really, maybe a light switch here and there in a different location but overall the house functions really really well. It’s a testament to the good design of the old house, and the new part of the house, and landscape, ties everything together beautifully.
I can really tell you’re really proud of what you’ve created.
Only in part, it’s a cliché but it was a real team effort between ourselves, our professional advisors and our craftspeople. Together we created something really great that I’m hopeful we’re all proud of what we created together, certainly I’m really proud that they’re proud of what they achieved, because it wasn’t easy.
But I suppose that’s the truth of the matter, nothing in life that’s really worth it, is ever easy.
More questions? Please contact us.